Try a reading discussion group for deeper understanding & relationships

By Kerry Bart

This morning I got on Facebook and used the video chat function to talk with my friend David, who is a United Methodist pastor in Maryland, about 500 miles from my home in Barboursville, WV. David and I video chat almost every Wednesday morning to discuss a book. We’ve been doing this for several years now and it is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself in ministry.

We started reading books together after doing a sermon series together four years ago (in our different churches but at the same time) inspired by Adam Hamilton’s book, Revival. Not long after our discussion of that book, one of us said something like, “You know, I’ve always intended to read Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship, but I’ve never gotten past the beginning.” We decided to read it together, and to hold each other accountable by discussing a few chapters of it every week. David does his reading throughout the week, and I’m usually up late on Tuesday night, but every week we discuss 30 or 40 or 50 pages of whatever book we’ve decided on.

We take turns picking books, and in the past few years we’ve read several dozen books on church leadership, theology, and church history, plus we occasionally read some of Wesley’s sermons, and there’s even been a work or two of fiction.

The reading is great. And even when it’s not (and honestly, sometimes, it isn’t) the fellowship is terrific. I even started another reading discussion group, this one face-to-face with two other pastors in my area, a Presbyterian and a Baptist. And in both of my book meetings we feed our souls through the celebration of personal relationships and we feed our minds as well.

If I could encourage you to add one thing to your personal discipleship, may it be this: find a partner and commit to reading and discussing books on a regular basis. You will grow.

Some of my favorites:
Assist Me To Proclaim, by John Tyson. A biography of Charles Wesley
Paul: A Biography, by N.T. Wright.
Christ of the Celts, by J. Philip Newell.
The Pursuing God, by Joshua Ryan Butler.
Making Sense of the Bible, by Adam Hamilton.
Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson.

Rev. Kerry W. Bart is the District Communications Chair for the Western District. He has been serving at Barboursville First UMC since 2013.